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Renewal in Theological Education: Strategies for Change.

During the 1980s Bob Ferris believes there was a growing appreciation of the need for renewal in theological education. Some of the factors he cites that led to this awareness were the emphasis on contextualization highlighted by the Theological Education Fund, the development of Theological Education by Extension in Latin America, and the studies in North America funded by the Lilly Foundation, which led to important statements--notably Edward Farley's lament in Theologia, which Ferris calls a good diagnosis of the situation without any proposed remedy. For evangelical educators, Ferris argues, this awareness came to the clearest expression in the 1983 manifesto on renewal formulated by the International Council of Accrediting Agencies for Evangelical Theological Education, which clearly set out the major values of renewal--contextualization, churchward sensitivity, continuous assessment, strategic flexibility, and community life among others.

This book grew out of an in-depth study of ten institutions that Ferris believes reflect renewal values, which he studied during 1988-89 as scholar in residence at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton. After an introductory discussion of renewal, Ferris devotes a chapter to each of these institutions, such as the Canadian Theological Seminary in Regina, Saskatchewan, which reflects deep sensitivity to churchly concern; Columbia Bible College and Seminary in South Carolina (where the author is a professor), which integrates around mission studies; and Union Seminary in Pune, India, which has pioneered a required year-long internship.

Though there is a great deal of fascinating material here, including survey results and interviews, Ferris is strangely uncritical of the material he presents. At times the description amounts to unqualified praise, without benefit of careful analysis. We do not learn what might be lost in the pursuit of renewal values. For example, when the students interrupt their studies for internships, what happens to language sequences? In fact we learn very little about the role biblical and theological reflection will play in renewal. Union Biblical extension students, we are told, see "study as a discipline integral to ministry" (p. 113) rather than as something they do before ministry. But how are these things integrated?

The book is really about renewal in ministry education rather than renewal in theological education. In ministry education there is much that we can learn from Ferris's descriptions of training goals, learning contracts, and adult education methods. But what this has to do with theological reflection that is historically or biblically informed, we do not discover. Interestingly the Lilly studies, which he sees as one of the factors in a rising awareness of renewal, have most recently begun to make important advances in theological reflection on the practice of ministry. This would provide a useful supplement to the valuable case studies in this book.

William A. Dyrness, former missionary in the Philippines, is Dean and Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
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Author:Dyrness, William A.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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